The experts tell us that in human interactions, two people meeting for the first time size one another up and form an opinion of each other in the first seven seconds. In just that short span of time, each determines if the other is a friend or a foe; someone to approach or someone to avoid. Apparently, we take home-buying much more seriously. Because upon pulling up to a house for the first time, buyers take a whole EIGHT seconds to determine if they're going to get out of the car or drive on by.
What does this mean for you as a seller? It means a couple of things. First, in anticipation of all those “internet drive-by” buyers, it’s vital that you use professional photos in your MLS listing, and that the photos taken show your home at its best. As a real estate broker myself, I can tell you that when I’m searching homes for my clients, I know within the first few clicks of the mouse if I’m going to send the listing. If the pictures are unappealing, or if they indicate a complete detachment to the whole house-selling process (think: overflowing garbage bins, curtains half-hanging on windows, a sink full of dirty dishes, stained carpets, or as I saw recently, a half-empty bottle of whiskey and a shot glass), I stop clicking and move on to the next listing. Remember: you only have eight seconds to make a good impression.
Beyond the MLS photos, sellers have to address actual, physical curb appeal. What does a buyer see when he or she pulls up in front of your house? Would their first glimpse be enticing, and cause them to want to see more? The subject of curb appeal always brings to mind one particular home that I drive by every time I’m visiting my friend in New Jersey. She and her husband live in a beautiful 200-year old home in the countryside. The road to their property runs along fence-lined pastures and grazing horses and charming old barns. But just before you reach their home, on one final curve in the road, you come suddenly upon a bizarre sight. For reasons known only to God and this homeowner, the entire front yard is surrounded by a border of dozens and dozens of bowling balls of every color under the sun—orange balls, and purple and and pink balls, and blue balls with sparkly metallic flecks, and rust and cream balls with Jupiter-esque swirls. Each is perched on what looks like a gigantic golf tee, and something about the arrangement makes me think of enormous push-pins sunk in the earth.
It is NOT attractive. And if you offered me a million dollars, I couldn’t describe the house to you, because I’ve never been able to look at anything but those odd lawn ornaments. Someone really should have been loving enough to say, “No, Bert, I do not think we should edge the front yard with bowling balls.”
Of course, you would never do such a thing. But how is your front door looking? Does it need repainting, or replacing? Is the lawn healthy, or is it full of moss? Could the garden beds use a fresh topping of bark? Did you have time last fall to cut back all the spent blooms and branches? Wouldn’t a little color look nice along the walkway? Enhancing your curb appeal doesn’t have to be an expensive or time-consuming endeavor. Start with the most obvious tasks and work down from there. A little touch-up here, a little clipping and trimming and tidying-up there can make a big difference. In fact, it can make all the difference in whether a would-be buyer lingers … or they dash.
We’d met one afternoon with a real estate agent who advised us that if we wanted to sell our Silver Lake home, we needed to paint the living room, re-stain the deck, and put fresh bark over the flower beds. She forbade me to stencil any more walls and left with a promise to add us to the MLS first thing in the morning.
We ordered the bark to be delivered the next day, ran to the store for paint, and came home to tackle the list. First up: painting the living room. While Dave went to the garage for a drop cloth, I opened the first can of whitely-white, whitey-white-white paint … and promptly spilled the entire contents on our dark rust carpet.
Want to know the formula for getting white paint out of rust carpet? All you need is two hours + two frantic sellers with scrub brushes + about two bathtubs-worth of the hottest, soapiest water you can get your hands on. It’s that simple.
When we were done, you couldn’t tell there’d ever been a spill. (This would be a good spot to tell you about a more recent incident in which I dumped an entire bucket of white paint on my head while moving a ladder, but that will have to wait for another column.)
We ran back to the store for more paint … which Dave forbade me to touch … and I watched while he painted the room. And even though I detest white paint on principle (who doesn’t like color?), I had to admit that the room felt bigger, fresher and calmer with that simple layering of white paint. Standing in our living room late that night, I wished we had done it much sooner, and I wondered how long I might enjoy our new room before someone bought our house and took that enjoyment for themselves.
Apparently, not long. Our house hit the market at 10:00 the next morning and by noon, five buyers and their agents were standing in our yard and driveway (next to the just-delivered bark we hadn’t had time to spread), and two of them were writing up offers on the hoods of their cars. Thus, my introduction to the real estate boom of 1989.
You probably have a good list going in your head. There’s the burned out light bulb in the pantry. There’s that one window with the big ding where your son threw an errant poker chip two summers ago. (Not that I have firsthand experience or anything.) There’s the door knob that jiggles, and the rickety cupboard door, and the missing hardware on a kitchen drawer. Those things are driving you crazy, aren’t they? You’d never sell your house with those little irritants in place, because if they annoy you, they’ll annoy your buyers. I recently took some clients to an otherwise lovely home which unfortunately had a kitchen full of barely-clinging cupboard doors. The husband opened one door (and they all open doors, just so you know), felt the wiggle, and proceeded to test each and every cupboard door. He and I are still talking about those cupboard doors.
Maybe your list includes more substantial items, like replacing the garage door or laying new carpet. (Actually, how about if we go with hardwood? Most buyers love hardwood.)
There’s no good reason why you shouldn’t have a little time with the new window and the fresh paint and the fixed cupboard doors before someone else owns them. So do yourself a favor and tackle the list one item at a time. At the very least, you’ll be in a great position to sell when the time comes.
And who knows? With all those problems gone and a facelift in place, you may just fall in love with your home all over again and decide to keep it for yourself.
Is it just me, or do we have crazy holidays? January 10 really, truly is National Houseplant Appreciation Day.
I'm just wondering what my houseplants would like …
Happy 2015! As always, new years mean new resolutions. Soon, we'll see joggers in their spanking new running shoes trudging and panting along roads and trails. Registration at the YMCA will skyrocket, and for a little while, fitness center parking lots will be full of hopeful exercisers. You have to love the collective optimism that binds us all together every January. And who knows? Maybe this is the year we'll all lose those unwanted pounds for good.
But this post isn't about diet or exercise. This post is a plea for resolutions from a different group of people: home buyers.
When working with buyers, the role of your agent is a combination of counselor, teacher, warrior and cheerleader. He or she will do everything they can to negotiate a good deal for you and secure the home you want. To that end, some things make the job easier (and result in an easier transaction for you). Consider the following resolutions a gentle nudge from someone who has your best interests in mind:
1. I will get pre-approved by a lender before beginning the search for a new home, and I will resist the urge to look at homes priced higher than what I am pre-approved to buy.
Why? A pre-approval letter makes you look both ready and serious (and therefore more attractive) to a seller. In a multiple-offer situation, a buyer with a pre-approval has a giant advantage over one without. As to staying within your price boundaries, the simple fact is that looking at more expensive homes only makes you discontent with the homes you can afford.
2. I will resist the temptation to search for homes on one of the popular apps, but will instead search real estate websites.
Why? Sites like Zillow and Trulia are not run by realtors; they’re run by marketers who make their money by attracting as many people as they can to their sites. To do this, they will often keep homes on the site long after they’ve been sold. This keeps their inventory high (which attracts more homebuyers), but also creates frustration. Why get your hopes up about a house that actually sold three weeks ago? When you confine your search to actual real estate websites, you can be sure that the status of the home you see is in real time. Also, real estate agents and firms see new listings on the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) immediately. It can take up to nine days for a listing to appear on Zillow and Trulia. And in this market, you can’t afford to be nine days late.
3. I will make a priority list that includes one or two deal-breakers (such as size or location), then a few high-wants (such as an upgraded kitchen or a bonus room), and finally a short list of things that would be nice, but aren’t necessary … and I won’t reject a house based on those bottom items.
Why? You don’t want to lose an otherwise wonderful house simply because you don’t like the cabinets.
4. I will keep in mind that no home is perfect, and no home will have everything I’m looking for.
Why? Buyers often believe that the perfect house is out there and our job is to track it down. In actuality, even people who build their own homes from the ground up (and I am one of those) will tell you that they would change a dozen things if they could do it over. Aim instead for a 90 percent perfect home.
5. I will trust that when my realtor says, “We need to see this house now,” he or she knows what they’re talking about, and I will make the effort to see the homes my realtor suggests.
Why? In a seller’s market, or in a market with low inventory, homes can be snatched up quickly. Your realtor knows when time is of the essence.
There you have it … just a short list of five good-for-you home-buying resolutions. And you didn’t even have to break a sweat.
Anyone thinking of selling their home in December inevitably wrestles with the decision. “Is it all right to go ahead and list my house now,” they ask, “or would it be wiser to wait till all the holiday madness is over?”
Many real estate agents counsel their clients to wait. Their reasons are understandable; December is, after all, the busiest month on the calendar. The thinking is that with all the hurry and scurry and hustle and bustle and shopping and spending, buyers won’t have the time or energy to focus on the house-hunt.
But the fact is, there are always buyers out looking for houses. People relocate. People downsize. People decide they can’t live for one more minute in their too-tiny home. So the market will never lack for buyers — not even during December. And this time of year offers a few benefits that outweigh the short list of concerns. Here are just a few reasons for listing or keeping your home on the market during the holidays:
Reduction in inventory means less competition for your house. Unlike the spring-into-summer season, when the market ramps up and there’s a big spike in inventory, the market winds down during December and January. With fewer homes for sale, yours has a better chance of shining.
December buyers are motivated buyers. Anyone willing to trudge through rain or snow or slush to look at houses is serious about buying. That means that if you do your part (and your part is setting a competitive price and making sure your home is in top condition), you will likely get the attention of those serious-minded buyers.
You’ve already done a lot of the work. There’s probably not another time of the year when your house looks more festive, so why not get some mileage out of the decorations you’ve put up? When my daughter was young, she always told me our house was “magical” during the holidays. That’s not a bad effect when you’re trying to put your best foot forward. So how do you make your home shine during this slower home-buying season?
—Skip the inflatable penguins. Enough said.
—Keep it simple. When I was growing up, everyone had the same Christmas lights in the same five colors: red, green, blue, orange and white. They were big and blisteringly hot — and we put them on our trees. it’s really amazing that any of our homes made it through unscorched. Today, you can probably buy taupe lights and chartreuse lights and flamingo pink lights. But should you? No. If your house is on the market this season, the wild lights need to stay in the attic. This is a year for white lights, which will not clash with your year-round furniture and will not distract buyers’ eyes from what they should be looking at.
—Highlight your home’s best architectural features. Every window looks beautiful framed in lights, as do porch rails, the front door and the eaves of your roof. Take a little time to dress up the front of your home, stepping back now and then to check it from the curb. Highlight the landscaping too, but remember not to overdo it.
—Switch to warm lights. Even though those bulbs may be quite small, there’s a big difference between “cool white” and “warm white.” Cool white are harsher than the warm white lights, in my opinion, and less-than-welcoming. They make me feel like I’m strapped to an uncomfortable chair with a giant “cool white” light bulb hanging over my head and a foul-breathed interrogator hunkered tortuously close to me yelling, “Where were YOU on the night of June 3rd?” Warm white lights, on the other hand, make me feel like I’m in my Grandma’s kitchen eating a fourth warm-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookie and watching the flickering flame in her antique kerosene lamp.
And on the subject of cookies … bake a batch, and arrange them on your prettiest holiday plate with a note that says, “Please help yourself.” What says “Welcome Home” like a plate of freshly baked cookies?
I have a dear friend in Nevada who keeps almost two dozen giant bins full of fall decorations in her garage. There’s actually an entire wall of floor-to-ceiling shelves dedicated to all-things-autumn.
We made a trip to see her one fall and I remember how overwhelmed I was by her delightful decorations. She has a real knack for figurine-placement (would that be a knickknack knack?) and I couldn’t deny the finesse with which she had placed all those hundreds of items. I could barely take my eyes off the plethora of carefully posed scarecrows, and the clusters of pumpkins and gourds on every surface in the room, and little hay bales and “I Love Fall” placards and maple leaf garlands and every other red and brown and gold and orange thing you could imagine.
While standing there trying to absorb it all, my friend said, “Hey! You haven’t said a word about my new mantel!”
New mantel? I never noticed.
And therein lies the problem with seasonal decorations, especially when they’re adorning the house you’re hoping to sell. We’ve all heard, “Less is more,” and that’s never truer than when it applies to staging.
If you’re trying to sell your home this fall, here are a few helpful tips:
- Remember the goal: you want every buyer who walks through your front door to think warm, cozy, comfortable, restful and spacious. Stand for a long moment in every room of your house and ask, “How can I set that scene in this space?”
- Eliminate every single item that doesn’t work toward your goal. That pile of papers you can’t bear to move because you just know you’re going to need something in it eventually? Find a way to get over that. Ideally, you can move the pile to an unseen spot, but if you must keep it out in the open, put it in an attractive basket. Do you really need to keep the bottle of dish soap next to the faucet, or could you put it under the sink? How many decorations did you put up? Will they be the focal point of the house, or do you have just enough that they serve to enhance and not mask your home’s best features? Fill a vase with beautiful fall foliage, or set some pears in a wooden bowl. A hint of autumn beauty is better than a truckload of scarecrows and corn stalks. The number one thing you can do to make your house shine is to get rid of all the clutter.
- Wash the windows. With all the beauty outside this time of year, make sure that buyers get a good glimpse. Clean is always better.
- Have you set a cozy tone? Your preferred style may be sparse and utilitarian, but your buyers’ likely won’t be. Nothing says “inviting” like plump pillows and soft, nubby blankets or quilts. Stage the couch so that every person who walks in will wish they could put their feet up and sit a spell. If you’ve got a fireplace or a wood stove, keep the home fires burning. That’s a quick way to add warmth (literally and figuratively) to your home.
- How does the house smell? Do you have indoor pets? The chances are, you no longer notice their scent, but visitors will. Light a spiced-apple or cinnamon-scented candle and let it work its magic. Bake a batch of cookies and heat some cider in the crock pot. Your visitors will appreciate the gesture, and it will set a welcoming tone.
- Now that the inside is the way you want it, go outside. Your buyer’s first impression of your house begins at the curb. Does your house have curb appeal? Does it set a tone that will continue through the front door? Maple leaves are gorgeous this time of year, but if they’re scattered all over your front lawn, the buyer’s very first impression of your home will likely be, “This looks like a lot of work.”
And here’s my final tip: Let’s not hang realistic-looking spiders from all the windows and doorways. Let’s just not.
Aren't you so happy about that? It always feels luxurious to have that extra hour of sleep.
While you're at it (setting your clock back, that is), why not take a minute and change the batteries in your smoke detectors?
I guess we've run out of free days on the calendar for weird holidays. Because as of Jan 1, 2013, New Year's Day has had to scooch over and make room for the latest wacky national observance: "Stay at Home" Day. I guess there's some logic to it. After all the shopping, cooking, eating, gathering, wrapping and partying we've all been doing for the past two months, it makes sense to spend a day plopped down on the couch.
But we were going to do that anyway.